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Opinion: Consolidating youth voices in agriculture

Opinion: Consolidating youth voices in agriculture  By Raymond Erick Zvavanyange  Youths have diversified agriculture, thanks to information and communication technologies (ICTs) which are leading numerous initiatives. Youths are benefiting through start-ups, mobile communities, and through a voice. The voice is precisely a lobbying and advocacy when it’s well-intentioned. Fifty or so years ago, lobbying or advocacy was likely a policy maker’s duty and responsibility. Today, the situation is different. The agenda for youth in agriculture is on public display with the inscription “youth, part of tillers of the land”, given the fact that the demand for increased food production is escalating. Elsewhere, a climate-smart context has fewer youth voices though this is likely to change with the approach of Rio+20.   Youths voices in various forums, spaces, and places leads to one observation. It doesn’t matter who takes the lead but it matters where the lead heads. Mid- 2012, dust settles on earlier youth agendas. With the robustness of organizations involved in agriculture, incorporation of youths’ voice is evident. Youths have been made leaders, change agents, motivators, creative writers, and contributors when it comes to the dialogue on agricultural development. With concrete programs, for example, the lively hubs in East Africa, Kenya, any youth participation in such initiatives creates a reasonable basis for their adoption in other places.  In Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, a youth business grouping with the name Zimbabwe Youth Chamber for Commerce and Industry (ZYCCI), is currently under launch. ZYCCI, which aims to provide chances to leverage the voice of youth can take the agriculture voice on board. Not only do such initiatives improve youth’s opportunities, they can serve as platforms for intellectual growth and dynamism in the form of discussions and debates. The platform can also be used to encourage females to pursue studies in agriculture which widen their employment opportunities. One should be quick to note that only when the highest levels of ethics perharps with a bit of professionalism can such course be followed. Furthermore, such platforms should not discriminate based on education, race, color, gender, and any other grounds.    Here are a few points that can help ascertain youth voices, especially in African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries:   1) Evidence of meaningful youth participation at field level. This is being pointed out in various discussions though it tends to revolve around Web 2.0 and Social Media, which is captivating to say the least. All the agricultural texts the technology conveys could speed up agricultural development when implemented. The noble thing is that youth can choose among the suggestions since the agricultural and ICTs fields are open to everybody, not only to entrepreneurs. Institutions and (or) their arms can facilitate such action because of the wide array of youth talent and creativity.  2) Separate social ills and youth issues in intervention initiatives. In principle, agriculture ought to be addressed as agriculture, ICTs as ICTs,and entrepreneurship as entrepreneurship. The youth voice in agriculture is currently spread all over which is both an advantage and disadvantage to those who may wish to track progress. However, because of the differences in nations’ priorities and focus, multi-disciplinary approaches should be considered as and when necessary on a case by case basis.  3) Harnessing available youth expertise and experiences in local actions. Mauritius, country to “Nawsheen’s World”, is a remarkable example of how excellence combined with passion shines in both ICTs and agriculture. This success story raises stakes for youths and adds credibility to their voices. In addition, this achievement should be sustained through unforeseen trends which may arise. Through youth teams, youth educators, and young professionals showcasing success stories in agriculture as initiated, for example, by YPARD, is one way to harness agricultural expertise and experiences. The sweeping point, however is to create transformational agricultural leadership a point eloquently noted in the book The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa by Calestous Juma.   4) Inventory of youth and young scientists in agriculture and research disciplines. This will facilitate co-ordination and realistic goal-setting in specific ventures, investments, policies, and actions. What should be avoided at all stages of coordination is repackaging unsuccessful agriculture or research models. Youths have rammed various points for agriculture. It remains to be seen whether youths can consolidate their voices. The worst that ought to be avoided is youths having a voice but lacking the agenda!  *Disclaimer: Views meant to encourage discussion and feedback on issues raised.